Hard work, tough love turn Ar’Mond Davis into Division I prospect

Leave a comment

For young athletes hoping to earn a Division I scholarship, there’s no one set path to that goal. While many take the seemingly straightforward track from high school to college, the experiences on the way are anything but similar. And then there are those whose life experiences result in a more circuitous journey, with the need for positive influences and an unwillingness to give up being even greater.

That’s been the case for Ar’Mond Davis, who dealt with tough situations throughout his time in high school. From dealing with a living situation that was at times uncertain and having his coaches pick him up at a local mall so as to keep his issues private, to now being the focus of many major college programs’ recruiting efforts. It’s safe to say that Ar’Mond Davis has come a long way.

——————————————————————————————————————–

While Davis’ solid freshman season at the College of Southern Idaho led to his being selected to play in last month’s JucoRecruiting.com Elite 80 West Showcase in Las Vegas, the journey began in Tacoma, Washington. Tacoma may not get the national pub that Seattle does but the city hasn’t lacked for high-level basketball talent in recent years, with Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley being the most noteworthy products who have gone from Tacoma to the Division I level and then on to the professional ranks, where they currently play alongside each other in the Boston Celtics back court.

For Davis to keep his chances of joining that list alive, he had to overcome a set of circumstances that can derail a young person and make their dreams unreachable.

“Sometimes just having to worry about where I’d stay or what I was going to eat, stuff like that,” Davis told NBC Sports during a phone interview, and it’s understandable that a person would be a bit guarded, not wanting to reveal too much to outsiders when it comes to family hardships.

With the unpredictability of his life at the time, having a routine he could rely on was incredibly valuable to Davis and that was (and still is) something he could find in basketball. The security of being able to pick up a ball and work on his game aided Davis as a youngster, and that only strengthened with his move from Lincoln High School to Foss High School in the spring of his junior year. There he would play for coach Mike Cocke, who looked to provide both the encouragement and discipline his newest addition needed after spending the last couple of seasons working to find neutralize Davis one the court.

“He’s an inner-city kid from a single-parent household with his mother raising him and his older brother being his role model,” Cocke said. “The thing he lacked when he showed up at our school was discipline within the classroom. Some stuff at home probably could have been a little tighter than it was, and that hurt him a little bit.

“Because by the time he showed up at Foss, his dreams of playing Division I college basketball right after high school would have been pretty hard to achieve. My biggest thing was I knew the talent and the kind of kid he was; he was never a bad person, he just never had a male role model to instill some discipline in him and make him a better person on and off the floor.”

Davis’ time at Foss was successful on multiple levels. Not only was he a standout for the team there, but it also led to his joining the Portland-based I-5 Elite grassroots program in the summer prior to his senior year. Running the program was head coach Kumbeno Memory, who played against Cocke at the junior college level, and that connection ultimately led to the high school coach knowing that there was another mentor willing and able to provide Davis with the help he needed in basketball and beyond to reach his dreams.

“Cocke reached out to Beno and said that he had a kid who was looking for a positive situation,” said I-5 Elite coach Chris Foss. “A situation where he could not only get some tough love but some guidance as well, which was something we were able to provide.”

And it didn’t take Davis, who originally played for the Team ACCESS program, very long to make an impression on his new I-5 Elite teammates. As a matter of fact, that would occur in Davis’ first practice with the team.

source:
I-5 Elite Basketball

“I just remember that first day of practice he was kind of a quieter kid initially, a little more reserved and he let his actions speak for him,” Foss noted. “We play a really fundamental brand of basketball but we don’t have the high-flyers that everybody else has. That day, we don’t normally do it, we started out with a “3-on-2, 2-on-1” drill; we normally do a lot out of the secondary break. They’re going down, someone threw him a pass and he just elevated, cocked the ball back and ‘BOOM.’

“We’re really high on kids talking on the court, having a high IQ and a motor, which are traits that we’ve been able to have success with and have kids overachieve. At the start we’re like, ‘OK, real quiet kid,’ and then he did that and it was like ‘the gym’s woken up.’ This was a little bit different than what we were used to, but from day one he was willing to buy in to what we were trying to do and could just tell he was a really sincere kid.”

While Davis flourished with his new program, there were also signs that his experiences weren’t in line with those of the average child. With that in mind, coaches looked to do the best they could to ensure that Davis understood that they would be there to help him out whenever he needed assistance.

“To be honest, I wasn’t as well-versed in what he was going through until we played in a tournament in Bellevue (Washington) to start the July live period,” Foss noted. “We practiced in Portland the week before and went up there the following Thursday (the day before the event started) and he had us pick him up at the mall instead of going to pick him up at his house.

“Just kind of being private with everything he was going through at the time,” Foss continued. “Just finding out as things went on, sitting down and having talks with him or hearing about it from Cocke or other people who were close to him, and we realized that he doesn’t have it like everyone else does. And it kind of showed why he did some of the things that he did, but our immediate and only response has been to give him a ton of love.”

After averaging just over 26 points per game as a senior at Foss High School, Davis went through the process of choosing a junior college that would best prepare him to make the jump to a four-year school not only athletically but academically as well. While there were initial thoughts of remaining close to home for junior college, Davis ultimately took the challenge of joining a College of Southern Idaho (CSI) program that annually ranks among the best in the country.

“In the recruiting process he was actually one of the easier guys to recruit,” CSI assistant Brock Morris said. “And what I mean by that is, we get a lot of high-level guys here and a lot of guys need to hear what you can do for them. With Ar’Mond we were able to challenge him, ask if he’s willing to compete with the best or not and he said he wanted to take on that opportunity. That, to me, stuck out.

“This isn’t a guy shying away from [the competition]. He came off the bench last year, was our second-leading scorer and didn’t complain at all. I think that translated back to his recruitment.”

On a deep roster Davis made the most of his playing time in 2014-15, averaging 10.9 points and 3.9 rebounds per game in helping CSI win 31 games and make the trip to Hutchinson Junior College in Kansas that junior college programs aim for every season. There are multiple reasons why Davis was able to play as well as he did as a freshman. Of course, there’s the talent and the desire to advance in his basketball career.

But in talking with Cocke, Foss and Morris there was a label that each felt fit Davis well: gym rat. And not the kind of self-proclaimed gym rat who sends out proclamations of “no days off” on social media, only for their in-game production to not be on par with that label. Davis has put in the work, with his coaches being witnesses to his development.

“Absolutely. He’s always been that way,” Cocke said. “It doesn’t really matter what time of day it is, send him a text saying ‘Hey, the gym’s open’ and he’ll show up and work out. He always wants to play, and if he’s not playing with us he’s playing at a local gym by his apartment, or he’s up in Seattle just trying to find a gym to work on his game or get a run in.”

Those years of using basketball as both a way to forget about the hand life dealt him and a path to a better life have paid off for Davis, who’s expected to be a leader for his CSI team as a sophomore. There’s also the recruiting aspect, with programs such as Alabama, Penn State, Memphis (he’ll visit there the second weekend in September), Missouri and Texas A&M either offering scholarships or in the case of A&M showing interest (A&M eventually did offer Davis).

With his ability to score at multiple levels and a desire to improve defensively as well, Davis can be an impact addition to a Division I program when he makes that move. Thanks to the combination of coaches who refused to let him quit and his own work ethic, Davis is well on his way to making strides as both an athlete and a young man.

“Coach Cocke was really helpful, because he’d help guide me and make sure I kept going in the right direction,” Davis said. “My I-5 Elite coach was really helpful too. There would be times when I’d think about giving up, but they kept on me to make sure I kept working to be successful.”

Injury bug biting Iowa State as Solomon Young the latest Cyclone to get hurt

AP Photo
Leave a comment

Iowa State has dealt with a lot of injuries and illnesses this preseason as the Cyclones are trying to get healthy with the regular season only weeks away.

The latest Iowa State player to go down is starting center Solomon Young, as the junior is out indefinitely with a groin strain. The 6-foot-8 Young has been a key cog on the interior for the Cyclones the past two seasons as he put up 7.2 points and 5.9 rebounds per game as a sophomore last season.

Young is also far from the only key Iowa State player currently dealing with an issue. Veteran forward Zoran Talley just had surgery to repair a broken nose as he’s hoping to return faster than a 4-to-6 week window that doctors gave him. Talley will be required to wear a protective face mask once he’s cleared to return.

Iowa State’s highly-touted freshman class is also trying to overcome illness and injury. Big man George Conditt and guard Tyrese Haliburton are both recovering from mono. Forward Zion Griffin just returned from a knee sprain while wing Talen Horton-Tucker has been in a boot at times during the preseason.

While none of these injuries seem to be for an excessive amount of time, it’s clear that Iowa State just needs to get healthy before they start their season on Nov. 6. With all four freshmen missing some time, it will be vital to make sure they catch up and understand everything before they are thrust into the spotlight.

Texas guard Andrew Jones out with a fractured toe

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Texas junior guard Andrew Jones suffered an unfortunate setback in practice this week as he sustained a fractured toe in his right foot during Thursday’s practice. According to a release from Texas, there is no current timetable for Jones to return from the injury.

The 6-foot-4 Jones is currently in the midst of making a full return to basketball after being diagnosed with leukemia in January. Missing the second half of last season, Jones has made an inspiring comeback to the floor over the last several months as he has been practicing and planning to play with the Longhorns this season. Jones completed his chemotherapy treatments in August.

While it isn’t clear how much Jones could have played this upcoming season, the fractured toe is another setback that will cause the junior guard to miss additional time. The leading scorer for Texas last season at the time of his diagnosis, Jones is a former McDonald’s All-American who was a double-figure scorer during his first two seasons with Texas.

Auburn transfer Mustapha Heron ruled eligible to immediately play at St. John’s

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Mustapha Heron has been ruled immediately eligible after an offseason transfer from Auburn to St. John’s, the school announced on Saturday. Heron’s eligibility was first reported by Adam Zagoria.

One of the biggest transfers to make a move last offseason, the 6-foot-4 Heron gives the Red Storm a potent double-figure scorer as expectations will now be sky-high for St. John’s to make a run for a bid to the NCAA tournament. Heron is receiving a hardship waiver from the NCAA, as the Waterbury, Connecticut native moved closer to home so that he could be near his ill mother.

As a sophomore with the Tigers last season, Heron put up 16.4 points and 5.3 rebounds per game, helping lead Auburn to a surprising season in the SEC. Entering the 2018 NBA Draft process before pulling his name out and transferring, Heron is a former five-star prospect who brings a lot of hype to the Red Storm for this season.

St. John’s now as four returning double-figure scorers in the lineup for next season, including two All-American candidates in Heron and junior guard Shamorie Ponds. That duo, along with junior guard Justin Simon, and senior forward Marvin Clark II, gives the Red Storm one of the most intimidating lineups in the Big East. Finding a big man who can rebound and protect the rim might ultimately be the key to the ceiling of St. John’s season, but adding a high-caliber weapon like Heron is huge step for the Red Storm.

Tom Izzo breaks silence on Michigan State’s handling of sexual assault allegations

Rey Del Rio/Getty Images
2 Comments

When his program was embroiled in the middle of the biggest story in sports last winter, Tom Izzo promised that he would talk when the time was right.

As Michigan State was in the crosshairs for their handling of Larry Nassar, a former team doctor for Michigan State and the USA Gymnastic teams that was convicted for being a serial child molester, Outside The Lines published an explosive piece that alleged Izzo and Michigan State’s football coach, Mark Dantonio, helped to cover up allegations of sexual assault against members of their programs.

Included in ESPN’s coverage of the story — which alleged that former Michigan State player Travis Walton assaulted a woman in a bar while a student assistant with the program, that Walton was later accused of sexually assaulting a different woman and that Keith Appling and Adreian Payne were arrested after being accused of sexual assault — was a graphic that pictured Izzo and Dantonio next to Nassar, who was sentenced to 175 years in prison for his crimes.

“That picture will go down as the worst thing that ever happened to Tom Izzo and Mark Dantonio,” Izzo said at Big Ten media day. “That picture, which was completely uncalled for, had nothing to do with anything. I didn’t know the guy, didn’t deal with the guy.”

Izzo was grilled at every opportunity by members of the media for months after the story was published, and he repeatedly told reporters that he wished he could talk but that he was being told not to.

“I’m not apologizing for how I acted, how I treated people,” Izzo said. “I have the utmost confidence in myself that I’m not perfect, but nobody is. The thought that I was going to hide something like what happened makes me sick. The thought of that makes me sick.”

According to the OTL story, Walton punched a woman at a bar and was charged with a crime, but he was never prosecuted because he had presented witnesses that contradicted the story of the alleged victim; she told ESPN she was dissuaded from going to the press at the time. Izzo said at Big Ten media day that he was never made aware of this incident.

Izzo did acknowledge that he would likely handle the situation with Appling and Payne differently today. The two players were never prosecuted, and a Title IX investigation concluded they did not violate school policy; it’s important to note here that one of the allegations made in ESPN’s reporting was that the coaches had influence over the way that the school handled these allegations. The NCAA later determined Michigan State committed no violations.

“I think they’re up to the court of public opinion now,” he said. “Would things be handled differently? I’m a little bit bothered to say yes. Every kid would be suspended for everything that happened”

“I get some damn good kids and I believe in them,” he added, “and you know what? I’ve kicked kids out for drugs. I’ve kicked kids off for that academics. I’m not going to kick somebody off for sexual assault? That’s insulting.”

No. 11 Kansas State: Is a return to the Elite 8 in the cards?

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Beginning in September and running up until November 6th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2018-2019 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Every day at Noon ET, we will be releasing an in-depth preview of one member of our Preseason Top 25.

Today we dive into No. 11 Kansas State.


Bruce Weber entered the 2017-18 season on the hot seat and, frankly, nothing about the way that the regular season played out changed that fact.

The Wildcats finished the regular season at 21-10 overall and 10-8 in the Big 12, earning themselves a bid to the NCAA tournament in large part due to the fact that they beat up on the bottom of a Big 12 that was really deep; nine Big 12 teams were on the bubble come Selection Sunday.

Kansas State lost all seven games they played against the top three teams in the league — Kansas, West Virginia and Texas Tech. Their best non-conference win came against a Georgia team that fired their head coach. They didn’t beat a single Big 12 team that finished above .500 in league play.

Sneaking into the tournament as a No. 9 seed seemed like a gift awarded to the Wildcats because they played in a conference that boosted their computer numbers.

And then the NCAA tournament happened.

Despite essentially playing without Dean Wade, Kansas State knocked off Creighton in the first round, ended the Cinderella run of UMBC in the second round and then picked off Kentucky in the Sweet 16 to get within 40 minutes of the Final Four. Loyola-Chicago ended that dream, but the expectations were set.

Kansas State returns every single member of a team that won 25 games and played in the Elite 8.

This will be the most highly-regarded team that Weber has had entering a season in Manhattan.

And in a way, this may be the most pressure he’s ever had to win.

MOREPreseason Top 25 | NBC Sports All-Americans | Preview Schedule

MOREMid-Major Power Rankings The Hot Seat | Perry Ellis All-Stars

KANSAS STATE WILL BE GOOD BECAUSE …

This team has the three components that you look for in a good college basketball team.

For starters, the Wildcats really do have good guard play. Barry Brown is the name that you need to know. A tough, 6-foot-3 lead guard, Brown is a 195-pound bowling ball when he decides he wants to get to the rim. He is also a tenacious defender — he hounded Trae Young twice last season — and was the forgotten man in a conference that was absolutely stacked at the point guard spot a year ago. If he learns how to make consistently threes, Brown will be a first-team all-Big 12 player this season and a potential second round pick in June.

Kamau Stokes will help to lessen the playmaking load on Brown, and he is also a sparkplug offensively, a dynamic scorer that can pop off for 25 points. Xavier Sneed and Cartier Diarra are floor-spacers and versatile wings that are tough enough to let the Wildcats play super-small at times. Throw in Mike McGuirl — a sophomore that burned his redshirt when Stokes was injured last season only to drop 17 points on Creighton in the first round of the NCAA tournament — and the Wildcats have a ton of guard depth.

And the best part about all that guard depth is that they all can defend. As a team, the Wildcats finished 21st nationally in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric. They get killed on the glass — that’s what happens when you play four guys that are 6-foot-5 or shorter for extended minutes — but they make up for it by running teams off of the three-point line and forcing turnovers with their ball pressure.

So we have a team with really good guard play that can really defend.

The last piece of the puzzle?

Dean Wade.

This is not a name that many people nationally are going to be all that familiar with. He saw limited minutes in Kansas State’s tournament run after suffering a foot injury in the Big 12 tournament quarterfinals, and he spent last season playing in a league where he was in the shadow of Kansas, Trae Young, Press Virginia and Texas Tech’s rise. But this kid can play. He’s 6-foot-10 but shoots 44 percent from three. He can pass the ball, he can move without the ball and he can play the four or the five. If you don’t want to believe me, this is what Mo Bamba had to say about him:

“I’d say one of the toughest players that I played against as far as just scouting, like, this was the first player that I looked at as far as tendencies and seeing what he does, is [Kansas State’s] Dean Wade. I’m not sure if you guys are familiar with him, but he’s really good. He’s super talented. He’s about 6-9 but can really move, and it was a challenge defensively.”

I like it when the dots connect, and, on this Kansas State team, all the dots connect.

It’s hard to see them being a total bust this year.

Dean Wade (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
RELATED: Expert Picks | CBT Podcast | Best non-conference games

BUT KANSAS STATE IS GOING TO STRUGGLE BECAUSE …

Outside of those three wins in March, Kansas State did nothing that would lead us to believe that they are going to be good enough to be a top 10-15 team in college basketball this season.

They lost seven games to Kansas, West Virginia and Texas Tech last season by an average of 16 points. Their only win over a Big 12 team that finished .500 in league play came when they beat TCU at home, and even that may not technically count; the Horned Frogs went 9-9 in the regular season and then lost their Big 12 tournament opener to Kansas State, dropping them to 9-10 against league foes on the year.

The Wildcats beat Georgia during the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, and that came just two months before Georgia fired head coach Mark Fox. They beat Vanderbilt and Washington State. The best thing you can say about Kansas State’s regular season is that they didn’t lose at home against anyone outside of the top three in the league, and they managed to pick off Baylor, Texas, Oklahoma State and Iowa State on the road.

Which is fine.

In a year where the Big 12 was as deep as it was, that’s enough to get into the NCAA tournament.

But if the Wildcats hadn’t advanced to the Elite 8 — hell, if they had lost to Kentucky in the Sweet 16, capping their tournament run at wins over a No. 8 and a No. 16 seed — I’m not sure they’d have the hype they currently have heading into this season …

THE X-FACTOR

… which is why the x-factor for Kansas State isn’t so much what they are capable of but rather how they will handle the burden that comes with being targeted.

There are three or four names that can make the claim of being the second-best team in the Big 12 this season, and Kansas State — along with West Virginia, TCU and maybe even Iowa State — are right there in the mix. They are going to enter the season with a very high ranking next to their name. Every game they play, from their opener against Kennesaw State to their trip to the Paradise Jam to a visit to Marquette to a game against Kansas in the Octagon of Doom, will be one of, if not the biggest game that their opponent is going to play.

We’ve seen teams struggle with this before.

Just last season, Northwestern followed up their first-ever trip to the NCAA tournament with a preseason top 20 ranking and a disastrous season that left them utterly irrelevant by the time that Thanksgiving rolled around.

There’s another side of this as well.

Bruce Weber is an underrated coach. He gets a lot of stick for what he’s been able to accomplish since he arrived in Manhattan, and I don’t think that it is entirely warranted. This is also his seventh season at Kansas State, and the Wildcats have yet to come close to matching what he accomplished in his first season — a 27-8 record, a 14-4 mark in the Big 12 and a No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament. Prior to last year’s Elite 8 run, he had been to just two tournaments in the last four years and was 0-3 in the Big Dance in his Kansas State tenure.

Barry Brown (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

I say all that to say this: The truth is that a coach never really gets off of the hot seat. Once a fan base decides that they want a coach gone, that coach is always one season — hell, one game — away from having people calling for his job. Ask Tom Crean about this.

Seeing how Weber will handle any disappoints, especially those that come early in the season, will be fascinating. The Kansas State fanbase is very well aware of the fact that missing out on Brad
Underwood, an alumnus and a former Frank Martin assistant that has twice changed jobs in the last 30 months, may mean missing out on an elite head coach that would have a reason to wind down his career with them.

The hype for this Kansas State team is very real — we have them 11th nationally, and that likely won’t be an outlier — even if there is a chance the team may not be.

What will happen if the Wildcats end up being closer to a borderline top 25 team than a borderline top 10 team? Will Weber be able to get this team to continue to perform if they don’t live up to expectations they had no part in creating?

And will that end up being his ultimate downfall?

Kansas State is one of the most interesting teams to follow this season.

2018-19 OUTLOOK

I think Kansas State will be just fine.

They might not end up being the second-best team in the Big 12, but I don’t see anyway they aren’t right there with the two or three teams that are chasing Kansas. They might not end up being a top two or three seed heading into the NCAA tournament, but I have a hard team seeing them fall past the No. 5-seed line.

This is a veteran group with March experience that defends, that has tough guards and that has two first-team all-Big 12-caliber players, including a potential all-american in Dean Wade.

There floor is quite high, even if there isn’t necessarily a Final Four-ceiling with this group.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

No. 12 Virginia Tech
No. 13 Michigan State
No. 14 Florida State
No. 15 TCU
No. 16 UCLA
No. 17 West Virginia
No. 18 Oregon
No. 19 Syracuse
No. 20 LSU
No. 21 Mississippi State
No. 22 Clemson
No. 23 Michigan
No. 24 N.C. State
No. 25 Marquette